Published 19 March 2020
Viruses and diseases are opportunists; they spread easily when they are given the chance to spread from one host to another through close or direct contact. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, governmental bodies and health agencies around the world are recommending different actions that populations can take in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In countries like the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, the practice of physical or social distancing is being strongly encouraged or mandated among the public.
Physical or social distancing involves members of a population refraining from interacting in large groups and in public spaces. This also means that one-on-one interactions between people should be conducted from a safe distance. In order to maintain efficient distancing, a distance of at least 1 meter must be kept between individuals and groups of people.
Recommendations and guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and national governing bodies are essential for reducing the spread of COVID-19, but there are far-reaching effects to the food industry. Food businesses have seen dramatic decreases in customers since the seriousness of COVID-19 has been realized and physical distancing recommended. Some food businesses are having to shut their doors completely, while others are finding it difficult to draw in the public to eat in the premises. The good news is there are options that you can implement to follow distancing recommendations and still be profitable.
Here are some guidelines for practicing physical or social distancing within your food business.
1. Rearrange your dining area
Efficient physical distancing is achieved with a distance of at least 1 meter between individuals. This proves to be challenging in a restaurant or bar setting where tables are placed as close as possible in order to increase customer capacity. However, spacing out tables is the only way you can ensure that physical distancing is being achieved. By spacing out your tables (and removing some if necessary), you not only follow physical distancing rules, you provide a comfortable atmosphere for customers who choose to dine at your establishment. They will be put at ease knowing you are taking physical distancing seriously. Also keep in mind that in some places, food businesses are being mandated to only allow 50% capacity in order to achieve physical distancing. Check with your local health authorities to determine what applies to your business.
2. Use your outdoor space more
If you are fortunate enough to have an outdoor seating area at your establishment, use it to spread out your customers if you can. Placing some customers in your outdoor seating area not only helps with social distancing, the fresh air and the open environment helps customers to feel more at ease. This can help your business keep customers coming despite the pandemic.
3. Increase take-out options and home deliveries
In some countries, a state of emergency has been declared in certain localities, effectively restricting restaurants and bars from being open to the public. Whether this applies to your current situation, or if you are still able to have dine-in customers, you should strongly consider providing take-out options and home deliveries (if you currently do not). By increasing your take-out and home delivery options — and perfecting the service — you can ensure that your business can make a profit even if it needs to close its doors temporarily.
4. Get technical
If you have the finances and means to do so, consider installing a tablet system for customers to place orders on. This decreases the occurrences of physical touch between customers and food workers. However, it is absolutely vital that tablets or other technology are cleaned and sanitized in between every order.
5. Restrict your staff interactions
Most food businesses have daily staff meetings; these should be discontinued and instead replaced with video calls, phone calls or online group chats. If some staff cannot attend the meetings, an email should be sent out with a summary of what was discussed so that everyone is informed.
During operating hours, many staff work in tight conditions — especially in the kitchen. Consider ways that staff can continue to perform their duties while respecting social distancing.
At the end of shifts, some staff may be used to gathering in the back of the house to chat about the day or other non-work topics. Collecting in this manner must be discouraged in order to implement social distancing.
With the drastic changes that are being implemented throughout the food industry, many food business owners, managers and staff are feeling panicked, and rightly so. It can be very concerning to watch the number of customers decline and the numbers of COVID-19 cases rise. The important thing to remember is that physical or social distancing is one thing that you can control. Take the steps to implement physical or social distancing within your food business and help stop the spread of COVID-19.